A hiatal hernia involves part of the stomach protruding into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm. It may limit the types of exercise that a person can do, but certain stretches and activities can help.

Below, we briefly explain what a hiatal hernia is before looking at recommendations for exercising with the condition. We also describe lifestyle changes that can help ease the symptoms.

a senior woman adjusting her swimming goggles as she is about to go for a swin which is one of exercise that is safe for her hiatal herniaShare on Pinterest
Low-impact exercises, like swimming, are a good choice for people with hiatal hernias.

The diaphragm is a layer of muscle that separates the stomach from the chest and helps support breathing.

The esophagus, which is the tube that carries food to the stomach, runs through an opening in the diaphragm called the hiatus.

The diaphragm sits just above the stomach and surrounds the esophagus tightly while helping to keep the abdominal organs and tissues in place. It also helps prevent the contents of the stomach from moving back up into the esophagus.

When someone has a hiatal hernia, part of the stomach slips through the hiatus, or hiatal opening, and into the chest.

A person with this type of hernia often experiences gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This involves acid from the stomach regularly rising into the esophagus and possibly up into the throat.

Learn more about GERD here.

Some people experience no adverse effects of a hiatal hernia. Others experience symptoms, which can worsen over time. Fewer than 5% of people with hiatal hernias need surgery to treat the issue. In rare cases, a hiatal hernia can lead to anemia.

Find out more about hiatal hernias.

It is important for everyone to get exercise that supports their health.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), regular physical activity can help prevent:

Regular exercise can also help keep body weight in a healthy range and reduce stress. This may be especially relevant, as having overweight can increase the risk of developing hernias.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that, throughout each week, people aged 18–64 get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous exercise.

They recommend performing this aerobic activity for stretches of about 10 minutes at a time and doing activities that strengthen the major muscle groups on 2 or more days per week.

It is important that people engage in exercise that they enjoy and that suits their lifestyle and health status.

Light, low-impact activities that do not strain the stomach are usually best for people with hiatal hernias. Examples include walking, jogging, yoga, and swimming.

However, some yoga poses could aggravate GERD symptoms. A person should never continue with yoga poses that they suspect might be causing harm.

Other forms of exercise could also aggravate GERD symptoms. To reduce the risk, avoid exercising after eating, drink plenty of water, and stick to low-impact activities.

People can help prevent hiatal hernias or ease current symptoms by strengthening the diaphragm and core muscles — without straining them.

Chair Pose

This yoga pose can help strengthen the core and lower body.

It may be even more effective in combination with diaphragmatic breathing, which we describe below.

To do Chair Pose:

  1. Stand with the feet together.
  2. Raise the hands above the head.
  3. Press the knees together.
  4. Bend the knees until the thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible.
  5. Hold the stretch for as long as possible before returning to the starting position.


This exercise can strengthen the stomach muscles. To do it:

  1. Lie on the back with the knees bent and both feet flat on the floor.
  2. Lift the lower back and buttocks off the floor, keeping the shoulders down.
  3. Hold the stretch for as long as possible before returning to the starting position.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Doctors usually recommend diaphragmatic breathing to help with the long-term lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

However, as it strengthens the diaphragm, it can also be useful for people with GERD and hiatal hernias.

Strengthening the breathing muscles can help the diaphragm work properly. If the body does not use the diaphragm correctly, the neck and chest muscles take on more of the work of breathing, which can leave the diaphragm weakened and flattened. This, in turn, further limits its efficiency, worsening hiatal hernia symptoms.

To strengthen the diaphragm through diaphragmatic breathing, a person should:

  1. Either sit up or lie down.
  2. Place one hand on the stomach and the other at the top of the chest.
  3. Breathe in through the nose, while focusing on the rising of the stomach.
  4. Breathe out through pursed lips, while focusing on the lowering of the stomach.
  5. Repeat.

People with hiatal hernias should avoid exercises that strain the abdominal muscles, such as sit-ups and crunches.

People should also be wary of weightlifting. Lifting heavy weights, or even heavy boxes or furniture, can strain the abdomen and make the hernia worse.

Amounts that are safe to lift vary from person to person. If someone with a hernia wants to start weight training, they should consult a doctor first.

Healthcare professionals recommend various lifestyle changes to ease hiatal hernia symptoms. The changes include:

  • not eating 2–3 hours before going to bed
  • avoiding chocolate and spicy foods
  • avoiding caffeine, alcohol, citrus, and carbonated drinks
  • sitting up straight for at least 1 hour after eating
  • losing weight, when necessary
  • using pillows to raise the head 8–10 inches at night

Learn more about dietary choices for people with hiatal hernias.

A hiatal hernia involves the stomach protruding through the hiatus, an opening in the diaphragm, and into the chest.

People with hiatal hernias can enjoy all the health benefits of regular physical activity. However, they should avoid exercises that strain the abdomen, as well as lifting weights and other heavy objects.

A person can ease the symptoms of a hiatal hernia in a variety of ways, including stretches and lifestyle changes.